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Understanding Attachment In Young Children- Sean Brotherson/NDSU Extension Service

Understanding Attachment In Young Children- Sean Brotherson/NDSU Extension Service

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Published by paceminterris
The quality of the relationship
between parents and young
children is one of the most
powerful factors in a child’s
growth and development.
Understanding this relationship
has changed our understanding
of what is important in parenting
young children. The term
often is used to
describe the nature of this
The quality of the relationship
between parents and young
children is one of the most
powerful factors in a child’s
growth and development.
Understanding this relationship
has changed our understanding
of what is important in parenting
young children. The term
often is used to
describe the nature of this

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Published by: paceminterris on Apr 29, 2013
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Sean Brotherson
Family Science SpecialistNDSU Extension Service
Why do babies cry whentheir mother leaves the room?Why do young children seekout a parent for a hug whenthey get hurt? Why do infantswant so insistently to be fedon a regular schedule?These and other questionsrelate to the key interactionsthat build a relationshipbetween adults and youngchildren – theattachmentattachmentattachmentattachmentattachmentrelationshiprelationshiprelationshiprelationshiprelationship.
North Dakota State UniversityFargo, North Dakota 58105
Understanding Attachment inYoung Children
The quality of the relationship between parents and youngchildren is one of the mostpowerful factors in a child’sgrowth and development.Understanding this relationshiphas changed our understandingof what is important in parentingyoung children. The term
often is used todescribe the nature of thisrelationship.Terms such as “attachment” and“bonding” often are used inter-changeably. However, the mean-ings can be quite different.
is the word used torefer to the relationship developed between an infant and a parentor primary caregiver during thefirst two to three years of life.How this relationship formsis dependent on how a parentresponds to a child’s needsfor care, comfort and security.It develops gradually and goesthrough a variety of phases.Note that this attachment refersto a
feelings and actionsin the relationship and not to theparent’s feelings about the child.
often is the word used torefer to a parent’s tie to an infantand typically occurs in the firsthours and days of a child’s life.Strong feelings of love and carethat a mother or father feelstoward a child help cement this bond. The “bonding experience”can help some parents developa more permanent bond withtheir young children, althoughchildren need continuing careand sensitivity to form strongattachments.
Types of AttachmentRelationships
The attachment relationship thata young child forms during thefirst two years of life takes timeto develop. Typically, infants willdevelop this relationship with theparent(s) or person who providesthe most direct, responsive careto their needs. This type of attachment with one to twosignificant adults is the
primary attachment relationship.
Then children will form support-ing relationships with other caringadults, which fall into the category
Attachment Quiz – True or False?
Scientists who study parent-child interactions have learned muchabout what builds a strong attachment relationship. Answer toyourself whether the following statements are
.1.Young children bond easily with a wide variety of caregiversin the first two years of life.2.The type of attachment relationship a parent forms with ayoung child has little effect on how the child’s brain forms.3.Infants in the first six months who cry for food or comfortshould not be picked up every time because they’ll be “spoiled.”4.Young children really enjoy interaction but parents need to be careful not to “overstimulate” them.5.Young children who have not formed healthy attachments oftencan overcome this challenge through intensive and caring attention.
The answer to the first three statements is
 ;the answer to the last two statements is
From research we know that:1.Young children normally form strong attachments with one ortwo primary caregivers during the first two years of life, ratherthan many people.2.The type of attachment relationship a child forms actually helpsshape trillions of connections related to language, thinking, motorcontrol and emotions in a baby’s brain.3.During the first six months of a child’s life, children respond bestto immediate and consistent attention and comfort and cannot be“spoiled” by it.4.Children need a stimulating environment, but overstimulationcan be stressful and have negative side effects on children at times.5.Many programs exist to help children form strong, secureattachments if this has been lacking in their early development.of 
secondary attachmentrelationships
. Ideally, a childwill be able to form one to twostrong and positive attachmentrelationships with parents, andthen have a supportive web of secondary attachments withsiblings, aunts and uncles,grandparents, close friends,caregivers, etc. This is the mostpositive environment for ayoung child.
Attachment styles
Scientific research on parent-childrelationships suggests that twoprimary types of attachmentsform:
secure attachments
insecure attachments
. Rememberthat this refers to a child’s qualityof connection to an adult caregiver,not the parent’s feelings about thechild. The following characteristicshighlight each attachment type:
Secure attachment
– Character-ized by children who respondhappily to interaction or reunionwith parents, greet parentsactively, explore the environ-ment around them whileknowing where the parents are,seek contact with parents whendistressed and exhibit trust intheir parents’ responses to them.
Insecure attachment
Characterized by childrenwho become anxious and seekparents but then struggle to getaway, are reluctant to explorethe environment, become upseteasily and exhibit frustrationwith their parents’ responsesto them.
Insecure attachment
– Characterized bychildren who avoid or ignorea parent’s presence, show littleresponse when parents are close by, display few strong emotionaloutbursts, and may avoid orignore a parent’s responsestoward them.
Insecure attachment
– Characterized bychildren who are not predictablein their behavior, seem unableto cope easily or be comfortedwhen stressed, and showevidence of fear or confusionaround a caregiver.About 55 percent to 65 percentof children tend to fall into the“secure” attachment category,while about 10 percent to15 percent tend to show an“insecure-resistant/ambivalent”pattern, 20 percent to 25 percentshow an “insecure-avoidant”pattern and 15 percent to 20percent show an “insecure-disorganized” pattern.What do these patterns mean?In general, these patterns or typesof attachment suggest the quality
of the relationship a child feelstoward a particular person(parent, grandparent, caregiver,etc.). They represent children’s feltsense of security and comfort levelwith the person’s responsivenessto their needs. They are important because children often showdifferent outcomes in theirwell-being based on attachmentstyle. Some of the importantaspects of a child’s growth affected by attachment quality includethe following:Children who are secure in theirattachments more freely exploretheir environment and are ableto learn with confidence, whilechildren who are insecure aremore likely to struggle in beingconfident and learning abouttheir surroundings.Children who are secure tendto be more popular with peersand exhibit more positive socialinteraction with other kids,while children who are insecureseem more at risk for hostile,anti-social or difficult relation-ships with other children.Children who are secure tend to be more emotionally stable andable to express and manage theirfeelings well, while childrenwho are insecure are more likelyto be emotionally unstable andhave difficulty in expressingand managing feelings.Children who are securedemonstrate greater abilityto handle stress and help othershandle stress, while childrenwho are insecure are morelikely to struggle when stressed,act out in unhealthy ways and be insensitive to others whoare stressed.The importance of attachmentquality can be significant. Howdo such attachments develop?
Development of attachment styles
Several key factors can affect thequality of a child’s attachment.These can include the child’stemperament (more active andoutgoing, etc.), the context of the situation (stranger present,familiar room, etc.), early history(traumatic experience, etc.) andother things. But
the way in whicha parent responds to and interactswith a young child is the key factor in how an attachment develops
.A child’s attachment stylegenerally develops based onthe child’s perception orunderstanding of the caregiver’sreliability in providing comfort,support and security. Behaviorsthat promote attachment andprovide the opportunity formeaningful interaction include:SmilingLooking at each otherVocalizing to each otherFollowingClingingPhysical touch and huggingExploring the surroundingsFeeding interactionsCryingPlaying
Parents and other caregivers should seek to understand theimportance of healthy attachments with young childrenand work towardthe formation of strong,secure attachments with children.
Ainsworth, M.D.S. (1973).The development of infant-motherattachment. In B. Caldwell andH. Ricciuti (Eds.),
Review of ChildDevelopment Research
(Vol. 3).Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press.Bowlby, J. (1982).
 Attachment and loss:Vol. 1. Attachment
(2nd ed.).New York: Basic Books.Brazelton, T.B. (1992).
Touchpoints:Your Child’s Emotional andBehavioral Development
. Reading,Mass.: Perseus Books.Bretherton, I. and Waters, E. (1985).
Growing Points of AttachmentTheory and Research. Monographsof the Society for Research inChild Development
, 50 (1-2,Serial No. 209).Gearity, A. (1996). Attachment theoryand real life: How to make ideaswork.
Early Report, Spring 1996
.Minneapolis, Minn.: Center forEarly Education and Development,University of Minnesota.Goldberg, S. (2000).
 Attachmentand Development
. Hillsdale, N.J.:The Analytic Press.Marchel, M.A. (1996). Attachmenttheory: Parent-child relationshipsrevisited.
Early Report, Spring 1996
.Minneapolis, Minn.: Center forEarly Education and Development,University of Minnesota.Sroufe, L.A. (1985). Attachmentclassification from the perspectiveof infant-caregiver relationshipsand infant temperament.
, 56, 317-325.Waters, E., Hamilton, C.E. andWeinfield, N.S. (2000). The stabilityof attachment security frominfancy to adolescence and earlyadulthood: General introduction.
Child Development, 71

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